Our global oceans are threatened by climate change, overfishing, pollution and a growing list of other impacts that demonstrate an urgent global need for sustainable ocean management. Whilst marine conservation initiatives and protected ocean spaces have increased over recent years, ocean management still lags behind the terrestrial sectors in incorporating and involving communities in its development. ‘Social licence to operate’ is used broadly across the terrestrial literature, but its understanding and application within the marine has been limited to date. This review sought to collate and synthesise instances of social licence in the marine realm as documented in the literature, aiming to create an understanding that may inform future research and development of social licence. Its results determine that social licence is yet an emergent concept in the marine sector but there may be great potential for its application in the marine context. Social licence has become an important theme for development in marine industry and resource use, particularly towards exploring communication and stakeholder engagement. This paper identifies future themes and areas requiring investigation and application in this domain.